Embodied Racism and US Internet Joking

The remnants of biological racism appear in racist humour time and again. These remnants can be described as ‘embodied racism’, a racism with an orderbuilding and hierarchical propensity, and an invention of modernity alongside the development of race itself. Embodied racist humour can function as racist rhetoric. When successful, these rhetorical expressions will serve the function of reinforcing embodied racist truth and removing the ‘appearance’ of ambivalence from both within embodied racism and between embodied racism and other competing or contradictory discourses outside of its boundaries. The chapter analyses the interplay between the constitutive sign-systems and dichotomous stereotypes of embodied racism, and the rhetorical incongruous devices of humour, to show how this semantic combination supports racism through its rhetorical and communicative effect.

The chapter reiterates and expands on the definition of embodied racism presented in Chapter 2, by situating it in relation to, first, a usage of race that considers the ongoing sociological debates on its meaning and usefulness and second, linked arguments on the concept of racialisation. Informed by these discussions, the chapter highlights some examples of the sociological downgrading of embodied racism, before introducing its central dichotomy, which is created by the concepts of ‘civilisation’ and ‘nature’ and their associated connotations. It is argued that these elements are reproduced in embodied racist humour.

Racist jokes do not always exhibit a direct expression of dichotomy. Such jokes do, however, maintain the ability to have rhetorical effects and may work implicitly on racist truth claims. The chapter gives some examples of non-ambivalent or nonstereotyped racist jokes with an outline of ‘black’ and ‘nigger’ jokes. These form ‘exemplary’ embodied race signifiers that are expressed, and rhetorically effect racism, often without the explicit presence of the stereotypes or dichotomies of embodied racism. An analysis of these jokes is presented via a critique of Raskin’s (1985) definition of the ethnic joke as that which always contains an ethnic script.

The final section examines three areas of embodied racism that appear in embodied racist humour, that develop as connotations of the civilisation/nature dichotomy and target black people in the main. To begin, I examine a mind/body dichotomy that shows black people as stupid. After this, I examine jokes that portray a dichotomy that depicts the sexuality of the black ‘other’ as savage and unrestrained. Third, in connection with the racist description of the corporeality of the black ‘other’, I examine jokes that show the bodies of black people in certain types of social activity or habit. These include sport, crime and indolence. In the last three, jokes that contain both embodied and cultural racism are shown to be connected in theme or target. Before that though, I outline the separation of the jokes in the chapter in correspondence to Michel Wieviorka’s dual logic of racism.

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